BAGHDAD — A resurgence of deadly attacks bearing the marks of al Qaeda has created deep concerns among Iraqis barely a month before U.S. troops are largely to withdraw from major cities and towns.
The rash of attacks that began in April has killed more than 400 people and stirred memories of the sectarian bloodletting that nearly plunged the country into all-out civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Apart from al Qaeda, other suspects include members of the 100,000-strong Sunni Awakening movement, which joined American forces during the U.S.-led surge to defeat al Qaeda. Initially given monthly stipends by U.S. forces, thousands of Awakening fighters have gone months without being paid since the Americans gave the Iraqi government responsibility for meeting the payroll.
Another possible factor in the resurgence is the release of tens of thousands of detainees from U.S.-run prisons under the security agreement signed by the two countries last December.
On Iraqi state-run television, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other government officials have repeatedly blamed what they call a partnership between al Qaeda in Iraq and remnants of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.
“This is definitely al Qaeda. This is their style for sure,” said Maj. Gen. Jihad al-Jaberi of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, who commands bomb-disposal teams in Baghdad, after assessing forensic evidence left in the charred remains of people and vehicles.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the U.S. remained on schedule to withdraw its troops from cities by June 30, when Iraqi security forces are due to take over.
“Their army and their police, in terms of providing for their own security, they’ve improved dramatically,” Adm. Mullen told ABC News.
“Al Qaeda is still active; they’re not gone,” he said, while noting the recent uptick in violence.
The U.S. military’s top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, agreed that forensic evidence supports known operational patterns of al Qaeda and said arrests have been made at shops where vehicles used in car bombings were fitted with explosives.
One sign of progress, according to Gen. Perkins, is that many of the recent incidents have not been suicide bombings. That suggests fewer foreign fighters are infiltrating Iraq from Syria and other Arab countries.
“When we had some vehicle-borne IEDs [improvised explosive devices], none of them were being driven. They were parked. Someone would drive a car, park it, leave it on a timer - a washing-machine timer, something like that - and then leave the vehicle where it was.”
While such car bombings are also deadly, he said they are generally less lethal than suicide car-bombings “because a driven vehicle is, in essence, a guided weapon that can drive into a crowd or a market.”
So far, there does not seem to have been any organized retaliation by armed Shi’ite groups for the bombings, which have targeted Shi’ite neighborhoods, markets and mosques.
Most notably absent, at least in comparison with the dark days of 2006 and 2007, are the violent actions of the Mahdi Army, a Shi’ite militia led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. After two rather mysterious years of religious study in Iran, the cleric recently surfaced in Turkey and appears to be positioning himself to make a grand comeback to Iraq as a political and religious force.View Entire Story
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